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Nearly everyone here has had the frustrating experience of trying – and failing – to convince a member of the GOP to see the light.  A few of us have broken through.  Most of us have failed.  Many of us have wondered where on earth these people are getting their facts, their ideas, their directions.  We wonder why they continue to behave in ways that seem to be

This diary references a great book published in 2012 by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.  He, too, has been frustrated by the great divide in the American people.

Although it fits, his choice of the metaphor elephant is not based on the GOP mascot.  He introduced the metaphor in an earlier book, The Happiness Hypothesis (also worth a read).

Basically, people are not rational.  Most people do not look at the facts objectively and then make up their minds.  No, most people are elephants who are going in the direction they want to go in, and they look for reasons – nearly any will do – to justify what they’re doing.

That’s why we see about half of Republicans blaming Romney’s loss on ACORN even though ACORN no longer exists.

The poll shows that 49 percent of Republican voters believe that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. That’s down from the 52 percent who thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election, although as PPP points out, the decline is “smaller than might have been expected, given that ACORN doesn’t exist anymore.”
We laugh.  We point fingers when we read such things.  In fact, we come to Dailykos and turn on MSNBC in order to expose ourselves to more of these statements, not even realizing that we are, in a sense, acting in a way that is very similar to the way the poor GOP is behaving.  We are seeking out confirmation of what we like to believe: that Republicans are fools.

Of course, our beliefs are based more in reality than theirs.  I truly do believe that.  As Stephen Colbert has famously said, truth has a liberal bias, and even Bobby Jindal said that Republicans should stop being the stupid party.

But what can we do with such determined ignorance?  How can we approach these people, preferably on a one-by-one basis, so that we erode some of the Republican support and win back the house?

I think the first thing we need to do is to understand how our brains are working.  There are genetic differences – especially in the brains - between conservatives and liberals.  Here are some of the results from studies cited by Haidt:

Conservatives react more strongly than liberals do to signs of danger

Openness to new experience is something found more often in liberal brains

Morality in liberals and conservatives has different bases.  Liberal morality generally derives from the dimensions of "care/harm," "liberty/oppression," and, to a lesser degree, "fairness/cheating". Conservative morality values these dimensions but not as highly as liberal morality does.  It is also concerned about "loyalty/betrayal," "authority/subversion," and "sanctity/degradation," dimensions of morality that tend to matter less to liberals.

If we consider these factors, we may do better a bridging the divide.

Haidt also recommends an old classic, Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.  Start with a compliment to your elephant friend (you can almost always find a compliment that is genuine). Once you do that, your elephant friend will want to believe the rest of what you say.

I think we have an opportunity, and we have it now.  We won the election, and people tend to like winners.  Fewer are watching FOX News so fewer are exposed to the echo chamber – which was exposed to be a pretty unreliable source of information.  The Republican

We certainly won’t win over all the elephants.  But we can win over some.  And we can help move this country forward.

I urge everyone to talk to an elephant: kindly, respectfully, without insults.  Make them feel safe to join us.

And if you want to learn more, pick up or download Haidt's book.

Tired of politics?  Need to escape?  Try my Greek mythology based novels, either the story of Oedipus from the point of view of Jocasta, or a trilogy about Niobe, whose children were murdered by the gods - or were they?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I am a bit of a Haidt fan myself (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chloris creator, LinSea, SilentBrook

    I have not read the book yet, but have read a number of his articles and interviews.  As with any model of communication it isn't a 100% accurate representation, but it is still a pretty good one and well worth our reading and considering. Facts may have a liberal bias, but knowing the values others hold leads to crafting the more persuasive argument.

    I also agree with  you that the one-on-one approach is ultimately one of the most effective. Witness how many stories we have heard that many turn arounds in anti-LGBT bigotry were the result of someone personally knowing someone who was LGBT?

    And it is a sloooow process. No matter how eloquent or well annotated an argument might be, nobody is going to turn a life long right winger into a lefty activist in one go. You may never even know that you planted a seed that made somebody go "hmmm, hadn't thought of it that way". But sometimes we do get to witness a "win". More than one diarist here has expressed shock and pleased surprised to learn that after months/years of gentle erosion of seemingly hardened opinions a parent or in-law or uncle has seeming suddenly adopted a more flexible view. We have also had diaries from those who formerly counted themselves conservative Republicans who have explained the (sometimes long) road of observation and experience that brought them to a place of being outspoken liberal Democrats.

    "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

    by Catte Nappe on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 10:20:50 AM PST

  •  I AM a Republican, and... (5+ / 0-)

    I am currently arguing with an idiot on a friend's FB page. Naturally, he's insisting that the "war on women" is fake, and that I'm a fake Republican. I pointed out that the GOP WAS pro-choice until the religious freaks took over the party, and that the 112th Congress passed 55, yes, 55 anti-women bills. I am awaiting his response, but have the feeling he needs to get a grip and stop frothing on his keyboard. So it will be a while. I posted your article for him, and also mine: ttp:/

    Net conclusion: More froth and spittle, no acceptance. But I enjoyed your article :)

  •  I enjoyed this diary (5+ / 0-)

    As a lifelong Republican who only recently started voting with the Dems, I will attest that your/Haidt's approach is viable.

    While many conservatives are beyond reach, there are actually a lot of thoughtful, good people that vote Republican for rather poorly thought out reasons. If they encounter a thoughtful person of good will that doesn't assume that they are evil or ignorant, they may be receptive.

    I know in some quarter's here at DKOS Republicans/conservatives are thought of as the enemy.  But they are fellow Americans trying to make sense of this complex world and have beliefs only as good as what they have been exposed to.  In this era of political echo chambers, what we (all) are exposed to may not be as diverse as what would be deemed healthy.

    Finally, while I have not read Haidt's work the value system that he says are more valued by conservatives does not ring true at all for me.  I call myself a "conservative" but in reality I'm fiscally conservative but socially libertarian.  Without really understanding Haidt's point on those values I'm not informed enough to make a solid criticism of his points but his "authority/subversion" value system would seem to be at odds with my experience.  Yes, some conservatives have a reverence to authority but many more seem to be of the "Don't tread on me" type or, in the words of RATM (and something that Paul Ryan, of all people, really liked) "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" type.

    Gotta run, work calls.

    We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein

    by theotherside on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:00:58 AM PST

    •  Good insight (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Catte Nappe, LinSea, SilentBrook

      There seems to be little deference to authority in the TP movement's leadership, especially those in Congress. However, there is great reverence for the idea of it, particularly if the individual is the authority.

      In other words, they crave power for themselves, but defer to no one else's.

      "Mitt Romney isn't a vulture capitalist: vultures only eat things that are dead." -S. Colbert

      by newinfluence on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:06:56 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The TP and authority (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        newinfluence, SilentBrook

        It sticks out like a sore thumb if you think about what "authority" (which includes tradition in Haidt's categories) moves them.. The founders! The Constitution! Original intent!

        "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

        by Catte Nappe on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:23:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  They revere it, no doubt (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Catte Nappe, LinSea, SilentBrook

          Funny, though, how they refuse to actually respect the duly elected government that those authorities birthed. Constitution as an idea is worshiped, but Constitutional government as a reality, not so much.

          "Mitt Romney isn't a vulture capitalist: vultures only eat things that are dead." -S. Colbert

          by newinfluence on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:46:41 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  That goes to the purity/defilement axis. (0+ / 0-)

            (not sure how they worded it, purity/defile is close enough?)
            They love the Constitution for its pure ideals, but the actual real-world use of the Constitution puts its dirty fingers all over it, smears and smudges those high-minded ideals, reminds us of inconvienient tensions (such as the Second Amendment's "well regulated" necessity) rather than be the plumb-line that "everyone knows" to be true.

            A winning campaign? You didn't build that...

            by SilentBrook on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 01:30:39 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  What he's about with that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
      Other words that come up in connection to that concept include structure, system, law and order, etc.

      And while individual Republicans might be less or more influenced by that value, he makes a good point about appealing to that value in some cases. Perhaps we are also likely to find confusion in the emerging and strengthening dichotomy within conservative/Republican circles; with the Tea Party and libertarian influence being fairly new compared to the "old style" Republicans of just a few years ago.

      "No one life is more important than another. No one voice is more valid than another. Each life is a treasure. Each voice deserves to be heard." Patriot Daily News Clearinghouse & Onomastic

      by Catte Nappe on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:21:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Dems also feel demonized (0+ / 0-)

      many of us were called traitors for questioning the wisdom of going to war in Iraq

      we are also called lazy and the 47% which refuses to take responsibility for our lives

      real insults have been hurled by both sides, which makes it difficult

      by chloris creator on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 11:50:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My approach (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chloris creator, Catte Nappe

    I try to find common ground and force Republicans I talk to see that I am a reasonable person.  I don't try to convert anyone or fight on every conceivable issue.  I just try to acknowledge the reasonableness of their opinions in a way that I can accept and make them do the same with mine.

    There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

    by slothlax on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 01:23:15 PM PST

    •  once you stop being "other" (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      then you're harder to hate and to demonize

      by chloris creator on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 02:05:41 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Exactly (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe, chloris creator

        The best example of this in my life was the night a guy at the bar was going on about how Pelosi and Reid were traitors.  Eventually I spoke up and said that he was calling me a traitor and that I didn't take too kindly to that.  He tried the old, "I'm not talking about you, I'm talking about the leadership" line, but I said I supported the leadership and they weren't pulling some trick on me.  He was surprised I would willingly support "the party of blacks and women" (his words)  We exchanged some heated words and I made the friend I was with uncomfortable, but by the end the two of us were slapping backs and buying each other drinks.

        Turns out the guy was a slumlord who likes to complain about the luxuries the poor have because of government handouts (phones, cable, ect), but never acknowledged that his tenants paid their rent through Section 8.  He's sucking at the government's teat as much as the tenants he loathes, but I didn't point that out in the name of comity.

        There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

        by slothlax on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 02:15:57 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

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